Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines
Prue & Kerry Mason
Walker Books, 2017
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Those of us of a certain vintage will remember a film from a few decades ago called Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (or if not the film, at least the earworm of its title tune). The subtitle was How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes and the film focused on a fictional 1910 competition, when Lord Rawnsley, an English press magnate, offered £10,000 (about $A2 000 000 today) to the winner of the Daily Post air race from London to Paris, to prove that Britain was “number one in the air”. Set less than a decade after the Wright brothers made that famous first flight at Kittyhawk in 1903 it offered a look at those early days of aviation and the costs and risks involved for those who live in an era when air travel is taken for granted.
But while the focus of flight was centred overseas, Australia was producing its own heroes who were also thinking about how humans could fly – people like Dr William Bland whose drawings of an Atomic Ship were displayed in the Crystal Palace in London in 1854 and Lawrence Hargrave who experimented with box kites to investigate the concept of wings in 1894 and whose work led to that iconic flight of Orville and Wilbur.
When we think of Australian aviation heroes we tend to think of Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler and perhaps Nancy Bird Walton but in this book the experiments and exploits of a number of other great aviators are brought to life adding to our incredible story of innovation and invention. Written by authors who bought their own vintage aeroplane in 2000 and wanted to know its history, it brings to life the lives of those pioneers through imagined diary entries, easily written facts and numerous archival photos and illustrations in a way that makes them accessible to young readers with a thirst to know more. Fascinating reads within themselves, each story makes the reader want to investigate further – why were the long-distance, record-breaking flights so important to Australia? Why were women not allowed to fly until 1927 and who broke the barriers? Who is Deborah Wardley and why do girls owe so much to her? There are so many more heroes than the ten covered in this collection – offering students the opportunity to add another chapter to the timeline, or to investigate flight itself, including how the technical difficulties were understood and overcome without the aid of computers.
The best non fiction doesn’t tell us all the answers – it poses questions that make us want to investigate further. Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines certainly does that. Could well be among those nominated for the CBCA awards next year.